MakerBot Introduces Thingiverse Education After 18 Months of Feedback
Andrew Wheeler posted on September 27, 2016 |

In the event I attended at MakerBot’s headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, recently, CEO Jonathan Jaglom was deliberate in making a central point for the attendees to understand: MakerBot has been going through an internal cultural shift over the last 18 months away from consumer markets to focus on optimizing its business for professionals and educators.

Gone are the halcyon days of 2014 when Bre Pettis’ bust was on the poster for Print The Legend, embedded on a 3D model of a coin with the inscription “In Steve Jobs We Trust.” Consumer 3D printing does not have a use case that legitimizes the comparison between consumer 3D printing and the advent of the personal computer.

A more sober and centered MakerBot led by Jaglom has come down to earth and spent 18 months reorganizing its structure internally to incorporate the feedback of teachers. When the first few rounds of MakerBot printers hit classrooms on the east and west coasts of America, the company packaged lesson plans and instructions on how to set up their 3D printers. The feedback that came in was summarized at the recent event. Basically, the teachers said that MakerBot may know 3D printers and hardware, but it does not understand education, the classroom environment and how to build effective lesson plans.

MakerBot’s Learning Manager, Drew Lentz, was on hand at the event to introduce and explain the company’s new focus on education. All the feedback was distilled into a few humbling lessons: make the printer extremely easy to set up and incorporate a more robust set of lesson plans that match educators’ goals and do not exceed their resources.

Thingiverse Education 

Thingiverse Education uses MakerBot’s popular 3D model sharing site by turning it into a platform for educators to exchange tips, tricks and standard practices for 3D printing. There are 100 available 3D printing lesson plans created and submitted by teachers and appraised by internal education teams at MakerBot. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.)
Thingiverse Education uses MakerBot’s popular 3D model sharing site by turning it into a platform for educators to exchange tips, tricks and standard practices for 3D printing. There are 100 available 3D printing lesson plans created and submitted by teachers and appraised by internal education teams at MakerBot. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.)

Let’s say you are a primary school teacher looking to introduce how 3D printing works on the most basic conceptual levels. After explaining how a 3D model is crafted and changed into data for 3D printing hardware to manifest a physical object from digital data, you have to be able to vet different CAD 3D modeling software. On Thingiverse Education, you can join groups that are dedicated to 3D modeling for beginners by joining groups such as Classroom 3D or TinkerCAD.

You can also download free resources such as “MakerBot in the Classroom,” which is a 150-page free e-book. Or you can watch the hour-long webinar, “An Overview of Free 3D Design Programs,” to get acquainted with design and choose a few programs to begin filtering out which ones could work for your particular needs.

As far as lesson plans go, you can choose from the following subjects: art, engineering, geography, history, languages, math, science, special education and technology.

I had the good fortune to speak with Poppy Lyttle, customer education lead at MakerBot, about its revamped education initiative.

How did MakerBot approach incorporating feedback from educators?

We wanted a much broader scope for our program, so we talked to many different educators. Our Makeathons happened in June all over the U.S. and we visited four locations and interacted with 30-50 teachers. These teachers became our core group that we worked with on and off throughout the summer to create the lesson plans that are on Thingiverse Education.

Teachers can submit lesson plans. How do you decide what makes it into Thingiverse Education’s lesson plans?

Part of my role, the role of others on my team and a few people on the Thingiverse team is to review the content that’s submitted. Standards are very valuable to us and for a long time, people would pitch lesson plans [MakerBot in the Classroom], but there was nothing to tie it to how teachers actually worked in schools and how they vet and submit their own lesson plans at their schools.

We wanted to make sure that all the language and standards that teachers use to discuss their lesson plans are included in Thingiverse Edu. So these standards, common language and a step-by-step breakdown of each lesson plan has to be included and refined in order to make it onto Thingiverse Edu. And this is a whole new avenue for users of Thingiverse.

In the past, Thingiverse was primarily a printable file community, but the resources attached to the file were not there. A user would give an object a title and a summary and then post it. With Thingiverse Education, a lesson has to be reviewed and vetted to ensure that it lives up to standards for different states, it has to be designed for different subjects and grade levels, extraneous material lists have to be included, as well as extension activities and handout materials. So it is much more comprehensive.

Every state has different standards, so that must be kind of tricky to boil down.

Yes it is, 100 percent. We launched this yesterday—and what’s amazing about the future of Thingiverse Education is that we have in-house developers and an external developer program to make improvements as we continue to grow. Right now, you can select by two standards: NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards] and CCSS [Common Core State Standards] . In the future it will be more specific state by state and grow into something as large as the original Thingiverse community.

What is the Remix capability?

So, there are educational STL files that are uploaded into Thingiverse. Everything is under Creative Commons in Thingiverse, so users can download them, remix them and re-upload them back into the community.

This gets interesting on the Thingiverse Education side. Let’s say a teacher finds a molecular DNA set of STLs on Thingiverse. If this teacher wants to download these STL files and spend some time creating a lesson plan for it, they add the content for a lesson plan and remix the file and submit it to Thingiverse Education.

Can you remix existing lesson plans?

Sure! There is an example of a high school robotics teacher who found a simple file that was uploaded from our Makeathon and upgraded it and customized it for her high school students. So you can customize a complicated lesson file and make it simpler, or do the opposite and make a simple lesson more complicated or advanced.

One of the points made at the event was that teachers would sometimes receive a MakerBot 3D printer and not understand how to set it up, or wouldn’t have the time to do so. How did you improve this issue over the past 18 months?

A lot of our focus went into our FRE [first run experience]. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for teachers to set it up. The teachers we would run into in the field and on the phone would leave the MakerBot in the box. They would order it in June and it would sit in the box for sometimes almost a year and they didn’t develop content for it.

A lot of our effort went into improving the FRE and making the directions available on mobile phones, which we’ve done with MakerBot Mobile. These directions tell you to sit at a computer and set up the phone that way. MakerBot Mobile now has videos, which prevents some of the text in the setup guide from turning into jibberish after a hard day or during a long week in the classroom.

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